Hokienauts on a special mission to advance space exploration

Virginia Tech’s Hokienauts have touched back down from their on-site test week at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they had the opportunity to pitch their spacesuit designs to experts in the field, including Astronaut Kate Rubins and Extravehicular Project Manager Chris Hansen.

Now back in Blacksburg, team members have collected all their feedback and documentation into a final report for NASA. Using that input from experts in the field, they will continue to improve upon their designs and conduct human subject testing. The team works closely on-campus with Wallace Lages, assistant professor in the School of Visual Arts, who has served as the team’s faculty advisor since 2018. 

This marks the third time that a Virginia Tech student team has been invited to participate as finalists in the NASA SUITS (Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students) Challenge. The Department of Computer Science has championed the Hokienauts since the team’s first challenge and highlighted the team’s cross-disciplinary, experiential learning approach as part of the university’s annual Giving Day event. 

Historically, the team has been supported by the School of Architecture + Design and the Office of Undergraduate Research. This year, the group also received support from the Student Engineers’ Council and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium.

The Hokienauts were one of 10 university-based teams from across the country to demonstrate their augmented-reality solutions designed for use in spacesuits in a lunar analog environment. 

Engineers from NASA’s extravehicular activity and joint augmented-reality teams served as design evaluators, testing student designs and providing them feedback. 

“You learn from the people that are actually developing real technology that goes to space — people that have been doing this for many years,” said Mithil Adsul, a recent computer engineering graduate who served as leader and team hardware engineer for the Hokienauts. “So you’re getting real feedback that really matters.”